A delegation of Canadian parliamentarians pressed Chinese officials on Monday to immediately release two jailed Canadians, warning the continued detentions have caused a “major chill” in relations between both countries.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper, one of the six lawmakers visiting China, said the delegation protested the treatment of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. The two men were arrested on Dec. 10 – nine days after Canada detained Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. law enforcement agencies, sparking angry protests from China and threats of reprisals.
Ms. Meng was later granted bail and is now waiting court proceedings while the two Canadians remain in jail and stand accused of engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security.
“We made it clear that from the standpoint of advancing important bilateral relations between Canada and China, that this represents a major chill,” Mr. Cooper said in a telephone interview from Shanghai. “Frankly, it is completely unacceptable that they are more or less denied access to consular services, they have been denied access to a lawyer, the detention conditions in which they are under are completely unacceptable. All of those points were raised.”
Mr. Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group, says it has not heard anything directly from him since he was detained and does not know where he is being held. Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, met with Mr. Kovrig on Dec. 14 but the detainee has not been visited by Canadian officials since. The group said they expect another consular visit to happen soon.
Karim Lebhour, a spokesperson for the International Crisis Group, said he believes Mr. Kovrig is likely facing the same treatment Canadians Julia and Kevin Garratt did when they were detained in China in 2014. Mr. Garratt spent 750 days in Chinese detention and was sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage before being deported. Ms. Garratt was detained for six months.
“We are not in a position to share any specific information about the conditions of his detention, but others in similar situations, like the Garratts, have described their condition of detention after having been released. They speak of intensive questioning several times a day, the lights in their room never switched off,” Mr. Lebhour said.
“There is no reason to believe that it is otherwise for Michael.”
In another case of a detained foreigner, Swedish human rights worker Peter Dahlin was forced to confess on Chinese TV to endangering “state security” in 2016 after he was arrested and subjected to intensive interrogation and solitary confinement.
Mr. Cooper said the delegation that includes senators Joseph Day and Victor Oh and Liberal MPs Geng Tan, Majid Jowhari and Chandra Arya, met with Zhang Daogen, president of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Sha Hailin, deputy-director general of the Shanghai People’s Congress. The MPs and senators belong to the Canada-China Legislative Association, which is funded by Parliament to promote relations between the countries. On trips to China, they usually engage with legislators and other officials.
The Chinese officials raised the issue of Ms. Meng and told the delegation that she has not broken any Canadian laws and therefore should be free to leave Canada.
“They said there wasn’t a basis upon which Canada could detain her,” Mr. Cooper said.
Canada and the United States have signed a treaty that requires both countries to honour extradition requests, although they have to be approved by the courts before a person is extradited.
Mr. Cooper said the delegation repeatedly stressed that there was no political involvement in the detention of Ms. Meng, who is out on $10-million bail. Canada’s courts are independent and the government cannot interfere, the Chinese officials were told.
The Conservative MP acknowledged that the Chinese officials they met with are not high-ranking and would not have any influence over the detention of the two Canadians, but he said he was confident that they would report their discussions to more senior officials.
Mr. Cooper said the delegation will have other opportunities to directly raise the issue of the Canadians with Chinese officials, particularly when they travel to an Asia-Pacific parliamentary forum in Cambodia next week. Members of China’s National People’s Congress – the main legislative body – will be attending, he said.
The visit to China by the parliamentary delegation had been planned well before Canada-China relations soured after the arrest of Ms. Meng and the tit-for-tat detentions of the two Canadians. Parliamentarians on the Canada-China Legislative Association travel to China several times a year to promote stronger ties between both countries.
“Obviously since Ms. Meng’s detention, this is no longer a normal parliamentary delegation. The elephant in the room is the detention of these two Canadians and so it is the talk of discussions,” Mr. Cooper said. “This is an issue of paramount concern.”
China has strongly protested against Ms. Meng’s arrest to U.S. and Canadian officials and accused both countries of a premeditated attempt to undermine the global aspirations of telecommunications giant Huawei, whose founder is Ms. Meng’s father.
The delegation’s call for the “immediate release” of the two Canadians echoes the strongly-worded diplomatic demand made by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Dec. 21. Canadian allies, including the United States, Britain and Germany have joined Ottawa in urging Beijing to free the Canadians.
By ROBERT FIFE
The Globe and Mail